The school year is barely two weeks old and for some students, the year-long struggle of making ends meet has just begun.
Craig Mazerolle, St. Thomas University students’ union vice-president education, has heard from students who have already had to access the campus food bank as well as depend on STUSU emergency bursaries. The bursaries are designed to help students in situations where they desperately have to pay a bill or travel somewhere to see a sick family member and they have nowhere else to turn for financial help.
“It’s really a shame that people have to turn to these programs,” Mazerolle said, adding that it can cause some students emotional hardship.
“I think that we’re definitely going to see pressure on lots of those different programs but also the campus food bank when people realize they don’t have as much money as they thought.”
First-year student Danielle Faron suspects she will have to dip into money she set aside in case of an emergency this year to pay the bills.
Faron, 20, saved up money to go to school while working full-time during the last couple of years.
When she applied for a student loan to attend STU, she was disappointed to find out she received a low amount because of how much her parents make and because she had money saved up from working.
“I came in here supporting myself pretty much so the extra help would have went a long way,” Faron said.
“I worked and they shouldn’t take away from that because there’s still living expenses I need [to pay for] and the case of an emergency, I’ll need the extra money.”
Money is tighter for many students this year because there is less student aid available, Mazerolle said.
And he only expects it to get worse as the year continues.
He pinpointed changes to the province’s student loan program, combined with an increase in tuition fees, as a reason why students will be digging deeper into their pockets this year.
In the last provincial budget, the David Alward provincial government reintroduced parental contributions to student loan assessments, something the Liberal government under Shawn Graham eliminated in 2007.
The changes mean that the amount of money a student’s parents make could influence how much money he or she receives in a student loan, which is what happened in Faron’s case.
The changes to the student loan rules will save the province $1.6 million.
Mazerolle said the changes came as a shock and that while some may argue students had plenty of warning about the changes, he doesn’t think it sunk in until students saw their loan assessments.
“For a lot of students, there’s a lot of different things going on,” he said.
“When they’re really going to know is when they see that dollar amount.”
Mazerolle and representatives from the province’s other universities met with Martine Coulombe, the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, and representatives from her department during the summer.
While they didn’t commit to changing student loan rules, and Coulombe has said she doesn’t think many students will be affected by changes to student loans, the government did commit to reviewing the province’s post-secondary education aid programs, Mazerolle said.
He hopes the province will adopt upfront grants to instead of introducing programs like the Timely Completion Benefit, which offers debt relief to students who finish their degree on time and meet a certain set of criteria.
“I really hope that the government takes our recommendations seriously and really changes student financial aid for the better,” he said.
In the meantime, Faron may see her savings account shrink. To her, it feels like punishment for working hard.
“The hard work should pay. I worked straight, full-time,” she said.
“For them to cut [my student loan] is just kind of offensive.”
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